Post-apocalyptic movies are nothing new. The end of the world has been a source of fictional fascination for mankind since the beginning of the world, I reckon. But "Last Sentinel" decides to play apocalypse with an extremely narrow scope.
The premise for director Tanel Toom's movie is relatively simple. A few decades from now, the world will be entirely flooded, killing off most of the people and animals. Two small continents are left, and go figure, they're at war.
It's like the Sniper said, "At the end of the day, as long as there's two people left on the planet, someone's gonna want someone dead."
We aren't given much about the two continents or even shown who lives on them. One is called the Northland and the other is called the Southland. And between both of them is an ocean rig called Sentinel, basically a tower in the middle of the water.
On this tower is a weapon that could generate a large enough explosion to trigger a tsunami, taking out what's left of dry land. And protecting it are four people. A German commander named Hendrichs (Thomas Kretschmann), the second-in-command, Cassidy (Kate Bosworth), a fisherman named Sullie (Lucien Laviscount), and an engineer whose name I could never quite catch because there were no captions on my review copy of this movie. I think his name was Banes, and he's played by Martin McCann.
Hendrichs is a strict commander who runs a tight ship (or rig). Cassidy plays her cards close to her chest. Sullie and the engineer just want to go home. They've been on Sentinel for two years and three months. But they only signed on for a two-year contract. Their relief team is delayed, and supplies dwindle more every day.
On top of it all, the rig is constantly breaking down, pipes bursting, and equipment malfunctioning. Nevertheless, Hendrichs is determined to keep his team "MacGyvering'' Sentinel and protecting the secret weapon.
But one day, a mysterious boat appears on the horizon. Keep in mind, these four characters haven't seen or heard from another soul in more than two years. So when they find the boat without a crew but full of supplies, they're rightly suspicious.
That's what "Last Sentinel" offers in buckets, suspense. It's a psychological thriller about who you can trust and what happens as personalities break down while guarding a weapon that could doom the world. And the audience doesn't get to look anywhere else, because Sentinel is all there is. So you strap in for two hours and get to know everything about these four you can. The only other thing in this movie is an endless ocean.
Sullie and the engineer fix the boat and want to take it home, abandoning the rig. Naturally, their commander, Hendrichs, the only one with a gun and determination to finish their mission, isn't too thrilled with that. So it sets up a conflict reminiscent of Michael Crichton's "Sphere," though with much less science fiction.
As these mentally exhausted soldiers reveal tiny pieces of themselves to the audience, screenwriter Malachi Smyth gives the audience plenty of time to sit with their increasing despair, the whole time wondering how the story will end.
I have to admit, when the empty boat showed up, I found myself worrying that "Last Sentinel" would place me in the extremely disappointing position of "1899," with a nonsensical twist ending. But thankfully, that's not the case here.
"Last Sentinel" does offer bits of action and some stressful character moments. And I can't say I found myself unhappy with an ending that borrows a bit from "Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines." By the time the credits roll, viewers should be able to, in a quiet moment of reflection, appreciate the thought experiment played across nearly two hours.
The film gradually unravels its mystery, particularly in relation to the empty ship, and it was just steady enough to keep me hooked. I had to know the mystery. I needed to know where the boat came from and if any of these characters would leave the rig.
In some ways, I appreciate a movie tight in scope like this. Narratively, you can do a lot with a limited setting as long as the actors are willing to carry some extra performance weight, as "Women Talking" showed everyone most recently. If just one of the actors in "Last Sentinel" had given a lackluster performance, the film would have collapsed in on itself. But everyone kicks in a captivating performance that only heightens the tension on this increasingly isolated rig with each passing minute.
Studios don't risk much on projects like this because they don't cost as much with fewer characters and no need for tons of flashy CGI. So make more, I say. Churn out more interesting thought experiments across genres. I'm here for it.
"Last Sentinel" opens in theaters today.